Emerald green artifact was ‘ignored’ for 80 years. It was a ‘rare’ 500-year-old find

Nearly 500 years ago, an expedition led by Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado trekked through the plains of New Mexico and Texas, searching for “a fabled city of gold.”

Coronado was accompanied by at least 2,000 “indios amigos” — or Indigenous allies from various populations in Central Mexico — who took handcrafted tools and weapons with them.

In 1541, about a year into the expedition, the group was stopped near McLean, Texas. It’s there that an “indios amigos” took out one of his tools: an obsidian blade.

Maybe he was butchering a bison or completing another task, but whatever he was doing, his blade snapped in half. The broken blade was discarded, left to the dirt of the plains, according to a new study published in January in the Journal of the North Texas Archeological Society.

That is until between 1930 and 1940, when a teenager working on his parents’ ranch in McLean spotted something emerald green glinting from the ground: It was the ancient blade.

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Luckily, the teenager, Lloyd Erwin, had a passion for historical artifacts and recognized that the broken piece of glass-like material was likely some kind of tool or arrowhead. Erwin added the obsidian artifact to his growing collection, and it eventually ended up “on the edge of one frame” alongside 30 or so similar pieces.

Once again, the “small unassuming” blade was forgotten, “largely ignored” for decades, researchers said.

But a “chance meeting” at the North Texas Archaeological Society’s January 2023 meeting changed that.

That’s where Matt Boulanger, the director of Archaeology Research Collections at Southern Methodist University and one of the study’s co-authors, came across Erwin’s collection, which had been left to his son and daughter-in-law after his death in 1992.

In May, Erwin’s daughter-in-law showed Boulanger the frame holding the blade, and he “just happened to catch its greenish tint as the frame was being turned in the sunlight.”

Boulanger noticed that the “prismatic blade” was actually a “highly unusual” artifact and an “exceedingly rare” discovery for the area, according to the study. Obsidian is not a natural occurrence in the Texas Panhandle.

With the help of Erwin’s daughter-in-law, Charlene Erwin, Boulanger conducted an analysis of the artifact and determined it was of Mesoamerican origin. The obsidian specifically came from the Pachuca Range, which is about 1,050 miles south of McLean and about 60 miles northeast of Mexico City.

The blade is about 2.5 inches long, 0.8 inches wide and 0.3 inches thick, researchers said. It has a “distinctive color and sheen,” giving it an “emerald-green” and “nearly translucent” appearance.

Experts determined that the most likely explanation for the blade is it was associated with the Coronado expedition. It could be “the first unequivocal evidence of a Coronado-related site in the Texas Panhandle.”

This small unassuming artifact fits all of the requirements for convincing evidence of a Coronado presence in the Texas panhandle,” Boulanger said in a Feb. 22 news release from Southern Methodist University. “It is the correct form of artifact, it is fully consistent with other finds, the correct material, found in the correct location, and there are no indications of an intentional hoax.”

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